Tag Archive for: Dayjur

Carson salutes ‘gentleman’ Sheikh Hamdan and recalls the golden years

Willie Carson described Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s death as a “gigantic loss” for the racing industry, as he recounted the almost endless list of big-race successes he enjoyed in the famous blue and white colours.

Carson enjoyed a long spell as retained rider for the influential owner-breeder, who has died, aged 75, partnering many of his most brilliant performers.

The former champion recalled how Sheikh Hamdan had changed the course of his own career, and that of Major Dick Hern – the trainer who masterminded the campaigns of such luminaries as Nashwan and Dayjur.

“He was a gentleman, a really nice man,” Carson told Sky Sports Racing.

“The lease was not going to be renewed for (Hern’s) West Ilsley stables and Dick was a bit taken aback by that and the first thing he said was ‘I’m retiring’. I thought ‘it looks like I’d better retire as well’.

A triumphant Willie Carson aboard Derby hero Nashwan
A triumphant Willie Carson aboard Derby hero Nashwan (PA)

“That was just coming into our minds at that time, but after riding a piece of work at Newbury racecourse, Angus Gold, Sheikh Hamdan’s racing manager, was there and I first mentioned – it might have been a bit of a joke, but maybe not – ‘why don’t you ask Hamdan if I could be his retained jockey?’ and that’s how it happened.”

Nashwan mopped up a string of headline prizes in the 1989 season, winning the 2000 Guineas, Derby, Eclipse and King George, while Dayjur was an untouchable sprinter a year later – with 1990 also seeing the great mare Salsabil carry all before her.

Carson said: “We had Nashwan, Dayjur, Salsabil – all champions in their own right. They’re the ones that come to mind and Erhaab, of course, who won the Derby.

“We made (the King George) into a sprint that day (Nashwan won) because he had those four Group One races in three months and he shouldn’t have run in the race because he was tired and he never really recovered from that. But what a magnificent mover he was.

“(Dayjur) was the fastest I’ve ever ridden and I would say the fastest anyone has ever ridden.

“When the track record was broken at York by his own horse (Battaash in the Nunthorpe), by a tenth of a second, straight away Hamdan said ‘Dayjur had a headwind’. He didn’t want anything taken away from Dayjur.”

Dayjur famously suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the Breeders’ Cup when snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as he jumped a shadow near the finish.

Carson said: “I don’t really know (how Sheikh Hamdan took the defeat) because I never saw him after the race. I couldn’t believe what had just happened.”

Carson also famously steered a wide path aboard Bahri in the 1995 QEII Stakes at Ascot, racing under the trees in the early stages in search of better ground before sprinting six lengths clear in the straight, a manoeuvre that became known as the ‘Bahri route’.

He said: “I discussed what I was going to do with Richard Hills (rider of the owner’s second-string) on the way out to the paddock and I told Hamdan in the paddock what the plan was. There were 10 seconds, then 20 seconds, of silence and I thought ‘oh dear, I’m getting the sack here’. Then he just said ‘do it’.”

Sheikh Hamdan’s passion for racing spawned the Shadwell breeding empire and Carson was keen to underline his interest in not only events on the track, but also in the paddocks.

Salsabil (right) beat the colts in the Irish Derby
Salsabil (right) beat the colts in the Irish Derby (PA)

He explained: “He was a man who enjoyed not just winning races, he enjoyed the breeding side – he enjoyed knowing about his horses. If there was a really important piece of work before a big race, he’d be ringing up from Dubai to ask how it went, what your feelings were and how the horse was.

“He was interested in the horse. What a brain he had – sharp – but a very compassionate man.

“It’s not just a major loss – it’s a gigantic loss. People in the racing industry will be very sad to hear of his passing, he was possibly one of the biggest well-thought of names worldwide.

“He would try to buy the best horses for his trainers and he was very loyal to anyone who started training for him. He always kept going back and giving them more yearlings.”

Sheikh Hamdan’s greatest horses

From Nashwan to Dayjur, some of the greatest names of the Turf have carried Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s colours to victory over the years. There are too many to mention, but here is a very select few:

Nashwan (Major Dick Hern)

Nashwan powered to victory in the Derby under Willie Carson
Nashwan powered to victory in the Derby under Willie Carson (PA)

Ask anyone to name a horse associated with Sheikh Hamdan, and most would surely answer ‘Nashwan’. He bestrode the 1989 season as a colossus, winning the 2000 Guineas, the Derby, the Eclipse and the King George. It was decided to aim him at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe rather than go for the Triple Crown in the St Leger at Doncaster, but he was beaten in his trial, the Prix Niel, and did not run again.

Salsabil (John Dunlop)

Salsabil (right) beat the colts in the Irish Derby
Salsabil (right) beat the colts in the Irish Derby (PA)

An exceptional filly meticulously nurtured by her trainer, not only to land the 1000 Guineas and the Oaks in 1990 but also to go on and defeat the colts in the Irish Derby when her victims included Epsom hero Quest For Fame. After becoming the first filly to strike since Gallaria in 1900, Salsabil was described by Dunlop as “the best animal I have ever trained and is quite outstanding”.

Dayjur (Major Dick Hern)

Has there ever been a more brilliant European sprinter than Dayjur? Group One wins in 1990 came his way in the Nunthorpe, Haydock Sprint Cup and the Prix de l’Abbaye, before his date with destiny awaited in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on dirt at Belmont Park. What happened that day is etched in Turf folklore – because with the race at his mercy, Willie Carson’s mount jumped a shadow 50 yards from home, after battling to the lead. That was enough to see him lose out in heartbreaking fashion to Safely Kept.

Sakhee (John Dunlop/Saeed bin Suroor)

Sakhee was sensational in the Juddmonte International
Sakhee was sensational in the Juddmonte International (John Giles/PA)

Undoubtedly one of the finest horses to carry Sheikh Hamdan’s silks, finishing second in the 2000 Derby to Sinndar and then fourth to Giant’s Causeway in the Eclipse, in a portent of what was to come. The son of Bahri joined Godolphin for his four-year-old season, winning the Juddmonte International and Arc before being beaten a nose by Tiznow in an unforgettable Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Erhaab (John Dunlop)

Mister Baileys leads the field in the Derby, with Erhaab poised mid-division on the rail
Mister Baileys leads the field in the Derby, with Erhaab poised mid-division on the rail (PA)

Perhaps not as brilliant as some in the blue and white, Erhaab was still a very smart performer – as wins in the 1994 Dante and Derby attest. He was third in the Eclipse subsequently, with his last run coming when seventh in the King George.

Taghrooda (John Gosden)

Taghrooda and Paul Hanagan raced to victory in the Oaks
Taghrooda and Paul Hanagan raced to victory in the Oaks (Adam Davy/PA)

Like Salsabil, Taghrooda was a brilliant filly who showed she could mix it against the colts. She shot to prominence in the Pretty Polly on her three-year-old bow and backed up the impression she created at Newmarket with an emphatic success in the Oaks. The Sea The Stars filly then won the King George – and after finishing second in the Yorkshire Oaks, she ended her career with third place to Treve in the 2014 Arc.

Invasor (Kiaran McLaughlin)

The Argentinian-bred was purchased by Sheikh Hamdan after winning the Uruguay Triple Crown – and it was to prove a very shrewd acquisition. Transferred to America, the son of Candy Stripes won four Grade Ones in 2006, culminating in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He reappeared in February the following year, taking another Grade One, before going on to glory in the Dubai World Cup.

Nayef (Marcus Tregoning)

Nayef and Richard Hills win the Juddmonte International
Nayef and Richard Hills win the Juddmonte International (Gareth Copley/PA)

Nashwan’s half-brother went into winter quarters unbeaten in two juvenile outings and labelled a champion in waiting. Those dreams initially came to an abrupt halt when he was beaten at odds on in the Craven and finished only eighth in the 2000 Guineas. Given a break, he returned to pick up three Group Three contests and ended the year with victory in the Champion Stakes. He further demonstrated his class as a four-year-old, landing the Dubai Sheema Classic and Juddmonte International, as well as being runner-up to Golan in the King George. He stayed in training at five, too, running with great credit to be third in the Dubai World Cup and winning the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Bahri (John Dunlop)

Bahri and Willie Carson power to victory in the QEII
Bahri and Willie Carson power to victory in the QEII (Adam Butler/PA)

Promising if not obviously remarkable at two, the Riverman colt developed into a top-notch performer in his Classic season, finishing third in both the English and Irish 2000 Guineas before hitting the Group One target in the St James’s Palace Stakes. He was narrowly beaten by Sayyedati in the Sussex Stakes and then tried a mile and a quarter in the Juddmonte International, where only Halling was too good. He returned to a mile at Ascot to win the QEII – a race in which Carson memorably chartered a wide path under the trees, a manoeuvre to this day referred to as the ‘Bahri route’.

Battaash (Charlie Hills)

Battaash has dominated Glorious Goodwood
Battaash has dominated Glorious Goodwood (Adam Davy/PA)

Given the exploits of Dayjur, it seems rather fitting that another sprinter showed off the same colours to such great effect 30 years later. Magnificent at his best, a deserved Royal Ascot victory came his way last year, to go with two Nunthorpes and an Abbaye. Remarkably, he has won won the King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood four years running. He will be back this season to add to his laurels.